Knoxville task force debates sign policy
Mar 14, 2013 (The Knoxville News-Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A proposal on new city sign regulations is close, even as a task force continues debate on what's good for business versus what's good-looking.
On Wednesday, Knoxville's Sign Ordinance Task Force held robust debate on what sign heights should be near interstates and elsewhere in the city.
Most on the panel seemed to agree that the tall signs poking up along Kingston Pike near Interstate 40 gave a busy, cluttered appearance.
But those signs also draw travelers off the interstate, business owners on the panel said in the meeting at the Knoxville Community Development Corp. Those are the travelers who stop for the city's restaurants and shops, leaving money and tax dollars behind, they said.
Joyce Feld, president of Scenic Knoxville and task force member, said that pretty cities make her exit the freeway.
"I don't want to stop in a city that looks like Knoxville," she said, "I want to stop in a place that looks attractive and has some charm."
The task force has been meeting since early 2012 to streamline a city policy that has been drawn up piecemeal across several sections of zoning code through the years.
They've discussed old, abandoned signs. They've even reviewed the humble window sign.
They've studied sign codes from tourist towns and big cities to design new regulations here.
They gave themselves an April 17 deadline for a policy proposal, with a May 1 public hearing scheduled. No hearing location has been set.
Feld referenced a public hearing in which community members spoke against roadways and vistas cluttered with tall flashing signs.
But those are the same signs providing customers with valuable information on the goods and services of Knoxville businesses, others argued.
And strong limits for future businesses would make those obstructive signs more valuable, according to panel member Bill Weigel. He's chairman and CEO of Weigel Convenience Stores, which has more than 50 locations in the Knoxville area.
Big limitations would hurt future business' ability to compete, he said.
"New people coming in won't have the opportunity to compete with people already there," he said.
At this point, it's up to Mark Donaldson, director of the Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission, to draft a policy document based on the task force's input. The tallest interstate signs could range from 25 feet to five stories, and other areas of the city would have shorter signs.
"I would like to see us do away with 50-foot signs in the city," said City Councilman and task force chair Duane Grieve.
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